Did Nephites ride horses?

In our recent tirades about the obvious evils of deer, it was noted , once again, that some scholars think that the horses mentioned in the Book of Mormon may not have been horses, but another hoofed animal. The common one that lives in the right place is similar to a deer. Unfortunately, such comments often are made in the context of how funny it is to think of riding deer into battle. In an effort to save future commenters embarassment, let me note that:

1. The Book of Mormon mentions horses very little. 13 times is the word-form used, and twice is quoting Isaiah. Once is a prophecy of the future. 3 times is just to mention that these animals exist. 3 more time are in the context of the 3rd Nephi story about gathering flocks and horses together defensively. 4 times it is about Ammon feeding the horses that drive Lamoni’s chariot. That’s it.

2. The Standard Works mention horses 203 times. Both the OT and the D&C mention riding horses, but there is no mention anywhere in the Book of Mormon of people riding horses or sitting on them or anything like unto it.

3. There is no mention of using horses in any of the battles that occur in the Book of Mormon.

4. In the 3rd Nephi story, the mention of horses may suggest (but does not say) that they are a food source, which seems more in character for deer-like things than for horses.

The whole “Horse is a translation for a kind of deer” thing might be completely wrong, but the fact that one does not normally ride deer is irrelevant to the discussion. The Book of Mormon never says the horses it talks about were ridden. In fact, it never mentions inhabitants “riding” anything, ever.

For those interested in Book of Mormon archaelogy, I recommend John Sorenson’s “An Ancient American setting for the Book of Mormon”. It is 20 years old, and so I’m sure there has been much discovered since then, but it is still a great read. If anyone has additional reading suggestions for me, I’d love to hear them.

63 comments for “Did Nephites ride horses?

  1. I think Kaimi was being sarcastic when he said “After all, the ancient Nephites rode trained deer into battle” but I have a hard time telling online. The site he linked to explicitly says “Interestingly, there is no description of horses playing any kind of a role in battle and no description of horses being ridden.”

    Several articles on the horse linked here under Enos 1:21.

    Prepare for an onslaught of cynicism and disdain, Frank, as they come out of the woodwork on this one…

  2. Kaimi probably was being sarcastic, in the sense that he probably doesn’t believe the horse=deer connection. The site he links to knows the facts I posted, but it is an open question if Kaimi does since I have not asked him.

  3. I admit that I don’t know much about animals, but it seems that with all the deer infesting areas such as where Nate lives, if there were a way to make them useful, wouldn’t we have found it? Why didn’t early American colonists ever herd deer as livestock or yoke them to carts? Isn’t that because of something in the nature of the deer that makes it equally silly to try to gather them like flocks and horses (3 Nephi) and yoke them to chariots (Lamoni) as to ride them into battle?

  4. It was not actual deer that were being proposed, but an animal similar to the deer. If my Santa Claus mythology has not lead me completely astray, reindeer get used for chariots, right? Clearly, though, the Nephites were referring to a domesticated animal, not a wild deer.

  5. Frank,

    Why do you assume that a horse is not a food source. Just because it isn’t in your culture doesn’t mean that it wasn’t in the now extinct Nephite culture. Why does the implication that they are eating “horses” make it more or less likely that they are in fact deer?

  6. Why would the American colonists go out domesticating deer and buffalo if they had perfectly servicable horses and oxen available? Why reinvent the wheel if you don’t have to?

  7. If some deer species were herded and yoked, what would it be called? Yokedeer? Harnessdeer? Bridledeer?

  8. Yesterday, I saw a photo of an ancient sculpture of some stubby little horses pulling a chariot. It aroused my curiousity as to just how horses were used anciently. This Guardian article on depictions of horses in ancient art was enthralling.

  9. ARJ,

    “Why do you assume that a horse is not a food source”

    I think I was reasonably cautious when I said that it was “more in character” for deer-like creatures than for horses. I know cultures that eat deer. I don’t, offhand, know of any that routinely eat horses though presumably there are some. If you are suggesting that horses are more commonly eaten than deer, I’m guessing you’re wrong.

  10. Frank,

    Obviously you didn’t eat school lunch in public schools. :) There was a big uproar while I was in elementary school about the kids being served horsemeat. I had thought it was a rumour started by the other kids, but I check with my parents and it turned out to be true. People got fired over it in the Davis County School District.

    In any case, plenty of people eat horse meat on purpose as well. The fact that you’re ignorant of it doesn’t mean it doesn’t happen:
    I read it on the internet, so it must be true!

  11. reindeer get used for chariots … well, they do get herded and used to pull sledges and sleds and made into sausage …

    What are tapirs and why are they interesting?

    Well, they’re one of the lesser-known large animals in the world. They weigh between about 350 and 800 pounds, depending on which species you’re talking about. Their closest relatives are horses and rhinos and they inhabit jungle and forest lands in Central and South America as well as in Southeast Asia. (An unusual distribution, which can hardly be overlooked by anyone interested in geomorphology.)

    Hmm, did not realize that the tapirs were related to horses.

  12. Frank: “I don’t, offhand, know of any [cultures] that routinely eat horses though presumably there are some. If you are suggesting that horses are more commonly eaten than deer, I’m guessing you’re wrong.”

    Come to Belgium, France, Italy, Spain, Japan… And they thank you for your horse meat, America.

    “Although many Americans have an aversion to eating horse meat, the horse meat industry is now rivaling the beef and pork industries in the amounts of fresh meat shipped abroad. In 1994, 109,353 pounds of horse meat was shipped overseas. In Sweden horse meat outsells lamb and mutton combined. It is also commonly consumed in Spain, Italy, Switzerland, Germany, Austria, and the Netherlands, but it is most popular in Belgium and France.” A quote from the USDA, but posted by the horse defenders!

    To stop the trend, the U.S. Senate recently voted “to ban slaughtering horses destined for grocery store shelves overseas”. But “in the House debate, critics said the shuttering of U.S. plants would do little to stop the exportation of horses to Canada and Mexico. Roughly 35,000 horses are trucked across the borders annually.”

  13. Frank,

    It’s just this kind of attitude that supports my thesis that the two most ignored cultures in the western hemisphere are those of Brazil and the French Canadians. I know you’ve studied up on one, now you need to look at the other.

    In any case, I really don’t see any non-cultural reason why people would prefer to eat deer over horses. I’d be happy to hear of any that you might offer. Which are easier to domesticate? I have no idea, anybody raised both?

  14. While Frank’s points certainly don’t exclude horses, when you include in the archaeological difficulties of horses, it makes things more persuasive. Having said that I can understand why some might think Joseph’s translation of horse or elephant to be significant – especially given that he was willing to coin new words for other unknown animals. If the horse wasn’t a horse and the elephant not an elephant, why not use a different word? The answer is that the Nephites used Hebrew or quasi-Hebrew words to refer to these unknown animals. But then that gets us to the whole issue of translation which seems even more problematic, not less.

  15. Frank,

    You’re right that I’m a doubter. A few reasons:

    Joseph was willing to transliterate. (See, e.g., Ziff, Cureloms). If BOM “horses” were something else entirely, then why would he use the word “horse” — one that his audience would know and immediately recognize and associate with a specific animal — rather than just calling them Curelams or Curezams or whatever they’re called in Nephitish? Is there any good reason to do this?

    The obvious potential response is that he was just translating the Hebrew word for horse. But in other contexts, he’s been shown to have translated meaning rather than word. (Adieu). So why use a word here that will be confusing and misleading to readers?

    This is the “most correct book,” after all. Does it really make sense to assert that some of the decriptions contained in the most correct book are based on the idea that “when it says horse, it really means deer, because Joseph was translating a word that could have meant either, and he chose to translate it in the most confusing and/or misleading way possible”?

    Also, note that the term was used once by Nephi. Nephi, unlike later interlocutors, clearly knows what a horse is. If the creatures mentioned were something different, Nephi would probably have said this (particularly given his distinction, in the same verse, between “goat” and “wild goat.”)

    Finally, it’s used in conjunction with other horse-related items (chariots).

    Bottom line — I find the deer reasoning highly unconvincing so far. I’m willing to entertain counterargument, however.

  16. Wilfried,

    So how often did you eat horse meat? What does it taste like?

    I see we now have an alternative hypothesis. There were horses in Book of Mormon times, but they got eaten up! Fine with me!


    As I said, I don’t know if the tapir thing is right or not. If you want arguments about etymology, go look at Jeff’s page. He, as Clark alludes to, notes the possibilities that the Nephites were actually using their Egyptian word for horse in referring to another creature. Cultures will do that when faced with new creatures. As for Adieu, this was where he brought in a word familiar to him and the audience that fit a Hebrew word. I doubt he had a word for tapir available, and tapirs are biologically more like horses than deer, and if the word was the Egyptian word for horse, why not use it?

    You could also read the several arguments made in Ben’s linked papers if you are interested in counter-arguments.

    But what you probably shouldn’t do is talk about how silly it is that the Nephites rode deer. They did not, in the Book of Mormon text, ever ride a horse or anything they called a horse.

    On the other hand, they did use them to pull things, and they may have eaten them.

  17. For the record, I don’t have a strong opinion on how to resolve the horse thing, but I think you’re being dismissive too easily.

    I think you’re misusing Joseph’s “most correct book” statement.

    First, given that Joseph made changes to it in 1837 and 1840 shows that it was not a “perfect” translation (whatever such a thing would mean), but a “sufficient” or “good enough” translation. I believe that Joseph’s statement about the JST “translation” applies equally to the BoM. ” I might have rendered a plainer translation to this, but it is sufficiently plain to suit my purpose as it stands.” (D&c 128:18)

    Second, in context, Joseph is not talking about the translation (the wording, syntax, grammar, etc.), but about its content or “precepts.” “I told the brethren that the Book of Mormon was the most correct of any book on earth, and the keystone of our religion, and a man would get nearer to God by abiding by its precepts, than by any other book.”

    You’re also downplaying the potential for analogy. Though Nephi was a city boy, he should have known what a horse was. However, he would not have known what a tapir was. There are plenty of examples in the articles on the horse in the BoM about linguistic extension and analogy when someone encounters an animal they don’t know- The Greeks and the hippopotamus for example. A hippopotamus or “river horse” is certainly not a horse, but that’s the word they used for it.

    It’s possible that transliterations enter with Moroni OR Joseph. Curelom and cumom appear but once, and in the Book of Ether. Moroni may not have known what those were and simply left them untranslated as Jaredite words. It’s also possible that Moroni knew what they were, but Joseph didn’t and had nothing analogous, so he transliterated. I see three possibilities here

    1) Moroni knows what animal the Jaredite word refers to, uses Nephite word, Joseph doesn’t have an equivalent and transliterates.

    2)Moroni knows what animal the Jaredite word refers to, leaves it because it’s also become a Nephite word, Joseph doesn’t have an equivalent and transliterates.

    3)Moroi doesn’t know what animal the Jaredite word refers to, transliterates it, Joseph transliterates Moroni’s transliteration.

    Lastly, the horse does not “appear with other horse-related items (chariots)” but an item, once. There’s no talk of bridles, saddles, manes, horseshoes or other horse-related stuff. (On the other hand, I don’t know much about the history of such stuff.) Furthermore, in the ancient world, chariot-pulling animals were not limited to horses nor were horses the primary chariot pullers. Other 4 legged animals also pulled them, such as donkeys, onagers, and in one lately recorded case, elephants. (Whether this was reflective of a common practice or not, I don’t know. I assume it was rare, but it happened.) The point is, any four-legged animal of sufficient strength could pull a chariot.

    Nephi’s familiarity with the horse notwithstanding, it would have been a minor or lesser animal for him. The horse” was never extensively used in agriculture or transport, despite its efficiency. In agriculture it was the ox, and in transport the donkey, which were principally used.” The Anchor Bible Dictionary, 6:1136

    Again, I’m not defending the horse so much as pointing out what I perceive as weaknesses in your objections to it.

  18. Yeah, see, I know the llama, but I don’t know the other two. If I saw them, I’d certainly not call them by their names because I simply don’t know what they are. Thanks :)

  19. As a missionary in southern Japan, we were taken to a pretty fancy restaraunt. The local specialty was “basashi.” Basically, it was thinly sliced small portions of raw horse meat with a dipping sauce.

    It was actually pretty good and I wouldn’t mind having some again. Apparently it’s much better than cow meat.

    As far as llamas go, I’d imagine that the Nephi at least would have called them camels (just going by looks). Of course, there’s no guarantee that the Nephites even encountered llamas anyway and even less guarantee that Nephi personally encountered them.

  20. Kaimi, I think the theory might be that Cureloms wasn’t a Hebrew/Egyptian word and so was “new.” The theory would be that were possible Joseph would follow the KJV style, as strictly as possible where parallels existed, and more loosely elsewhere. (With some of the “loose” aspects perhaps being expansions on the text by God/Joseph) If the Nephites used existing words for horse and elephant, Joseph would follow the KJV translation scheme. For new words, perhaps brought in from indigenous mesoAmerican languages, Joseph would translate a new word.

    (Although the etymological nature of these new words would be of great interest)

  21. Horses wouldn’t have been eaten. (Caveat, I’m a Jew with an LDS wife). As far as I’ve been able to tell from my reading of the BoM, (we are up to mid 3rd nephi), the laws from Leviticus were still followed by the Nephites up until 3rd nephi. Leviticus 11:3 is Whatsoever parteth the hoof, and is clovenfooted, and cheweth the cud, among the beasts, that shall ye eat. Horses have are not clovenfooted.

    And in the Torah(KJV-OT), there is a definite connection between horses and the way they were used. Two out of the three references to Horses in Genesis talk about riders and chariots and most of the ones in Exodus (which are mostly the Pharoah’s troops)

  22. Randolph,

    Thanks for the insight. Your link to the Law of Moses made me curious. Both deer and tapir are, apparently kosher because they chew cud and are clovenfooted(?).

    And I think it is great that you are reading the Book of Mormon with your wife.

  23. Frank: “Wilfried, So how often did you eat horse meat? What does it taste like?”

    It’s been ages since. When I was a child, we used to have horse steak once in a while. I only remember mom bought it because it was cheaper and also leaner. I was not particularly fond of it, but mom said it was healthier than beef.

    And indeed: “With a delicate flavor similar to beef, though many describe its taste as slightly sweeter than other meats, horse meat can be used to replace beef, pork, mutton, and any other meat in virtually any recipe, though most aficionados prefer it in marinated or spicy dishes. Nutritionally, horse meat has around 40 percent fewer calories than the leanest beef, while supplying 50 percent more protein and as much as 30 percent more iron; and horse fat is considered an excellent health-conscious deep-frying alternative, especially for delicately-flavored foods that are easily overpowered by heavier oils.”

    The whole article where I took this from is interesting read. And it adds: “Most American adults have probably eaten horse meat, though they didn’t know it at the time…”

  24. I am inclined to think that the article is horse-eating propaganda. I think your account and others here who’ve tried it, are probably less biased than our horse loving friend.

  25. True, Frank. But it is also interesting that the article is part of a site dealing with emergency preparedness and survival in critical conditions… And since quite a few Mormons are concerned about … Perhaps keep a horse in the food storage.

  26. Since the stirrup was not invented until after the birth of Christ, and then only in China, I can’t imagine why we would ever see reference to Nephites riding horses, especially in battle. If Joseph Smith wanted to come up with a romantic story about conquest, it would seem to me he’d have stories of warriors riding horses.

    They were only draft animals when Lehi left Jerusalem. For that reason, the word “horse” could have meant really anything — a generic term for draft animal. Like “land of Jerusalem” for Bethlehem. “Apostle” for persons other than the twelve. Curelom for something that no longer exists because the name could not be transilterated.


  27. Hmm..

    R(Crock)ett; you might look into the history of Alexander the Great to see how the horse was skillfully used in battle B.C.E. In fact, you might be interested in the Illiad, and Thucydides’ The Peloponnesian War as well. Try not to compare these works to the stunning achievement of the BOM, just use some of the references to horses to calibrate your claim.

  28. Well, there is no doubt the horse was very skilfully used in the Trojan War, but for all I know, it was a curelom that the Trojans brought within their walls.

    Their is quite wide agreement that the stirrup did not come into wide use until around the beginning of the C.E. It was apparently developed in China, although there are also some indications that it was used in India. However, for a long time, it did not seem that the military applications had occurred to many.

    Cavalry was used extensively prior to the invention of the stirrup, but was obviously much less effective. Additionally, what we know as the modern horse did not develop until after centuries of selective breeding. Most of the horses used in ancient warfare were much smaller. However, as Alexander the Great showed in his defeat of the Persian Empire, massed cavalry could have a decisive effect on battles, perhaps more by its effect on morale than by the actual damage it inflicted. It was hard for infantry to maintain a line in the face of a massed cavalry charge, even if the horses were smaller than today’s.

  29. I don’t recall if it was on my visit to the Met in New York, or to the Museum of Natural History, or to the Boston Museum of Fine Arts, but whichever it was, I saw an ornate pottery piece in the Pre-Columbian section, that clearly shows a man riding on othe back of a deer or deer-like animal. There is no question about that.

    This does not really provide any context to whether or not deer were ridden commonly, whether they were utilized in any manner as beasts of burden, or in battle…

    But whatever the case, the image is preserved on the pot and it clearly shows a man riding on the back of the animal that appears to be a deer-like creature. That is unmistakeable.

  30. I’ve often thought the biggest problem with this debate is that no one knows how the translation process worked. If it was simply a knowledge of the language, similar, say, to my understanding of Portuguese, which was then used to translate into J.S.’s native langugae, then I have no problem with him getting some of the words wrong. Indeed, if that is the case, then there is ample analogy to biblical translation that made similar mistakes. See, e.g., Deuteronomy 14, where over half of the animals were apparently mistranslated into a similar, but wrong, type of animal. If the process was, however, that when using the seer stones, or urim and thumnim (sp), or his hat, or whatever it was that J.S. was using, that the words “popped up” to him while translating, then I agree that there is a much bigger problem.

  31. Jimbob, I’m interested in your assertion that the animals in Deut. 14 were translated incorrectly. I thought it was more an issue of uncertainty about precisely what animals were referred to, out of several possibilities, but not an outright mistranslation. The pygarg, though, is one animal that no one can identify because the term is not used anywhere else, similar to the Book of Mormon curelom.

    One lesson to take from Deut. 14 is that the Israelites were familiar with a variety of quadripeds, and it defies reason to suppose that Nephi didn’t know the difference between a horse and a deer. Surely Joseph Smith also knew a horse from a deer.

    The idea that Joseph Smith should have said “deer” instead of “horse” because “deer” were “in the right place” and horses weren’t is the kind of backward reasoning that, to me, undermines the credibility of the Book of Mormon. It’s another of the square pegs the Mesoamerican advocates try to cram into round holes. Why not instead conclude that Mesoamerica is an unlikely, if not impossible, location for the Book of Mormon civilization?

  32. RE 39: I wasn’t reading a whole lot more into it than the fact that the King James version’s text of Deuteronomy 14 says one thing, and the footnotes to our version indicate that the Hebrew says something else. Is my analysis too facile?

  33. The main problem is that he translated the golden plates with spiritual guidance. So if he used the word horse then either A. he ignored the spirit and put in a word that was close, or B the spirit was fallible or C he made it up with limited education and simply erred in his works

    A Ignoring the spirit.
    He was a man and even the elect can do dumb things. Maybe he said “No one knows what a tapir is. Ill just use the word horse”. Man is not perfect.

    B The spirit is fallible
    Not likely the answer some would want.

    C he made it up
    The normal outcome of anti-Mormon logic is this belief.

    So since the only two who were involved was the spirit and Smith one of them messed up. As no one claims that Smith was perfect I would simply say he messed up.

    Now how does that effect the belief that the book of Mormon is the most correct book. Adds a kink to put it bluntly.

    What we should avoid are the mental gymnastic I am seeing in so many people to justify the word horse in the BoM. Forcing your brain to lie to you only causes hurt down the road.

    My 2 cents.

  34. Gunner, that’s a pretty simplistic way of looking at the translation. There are other options that don’t include “forcing your brain to lie.”

    As I argued above in #22, Joseph intended “most correct book” to apply to its precepts, not to its grammar, syntax, vocabulary, spelling, etc.

    I have a similar comment on Jimbob’s false dichotomy in #38, but it’ll have to wait until morning.

  35. There may very well have been real horses during Book of Mormon times.

    1. Statues of horses have been discovered that date to Book of Mormon times.

    2. “Disappearing” horse bones has also happened in other parts of the world. There are no archealogical horse remains found in the boundaries of the Hun Empire, yet the Huns were documented to have plenty of horses.

    Therefore the absence of horses at the time of the arrival of the Europeans doesn’t mean that no horses were here during BoM times.

  36. Although it’s probably best to first search for mundane explanations to apparent anachronisms, I see no need to absolutely rule out divine intervention.

    If the Lord can create galaxies, solar systems, planets, and stock them with animals, and people them with the sons and daughters of God, part the sea, rain down fire and brimstone, move mountains, walk on water, multiply fishes and loaves, raise the dead, heal lepers, give sight to the blind, and himself be ressurected into immortality, I would think he also has the power to:

    1. Make horse bones disappear.
    2. Cause steel swords to disintegrate.
    3. Change people’s DNA to whatever he wants. (If he “puts a mark” on people such that it is passed on to their children, isn’t that explicitly like changing their DNA?)

    Why is it that we claim belief (or knowledge) that the scriptures are true, with all their accounts of God’s miraculous interventions, yet when we go to answer the skeptics, we fail to mention the possibility that God intervened?

  37. A reminder– no one is claiming that it was a fluffy tailed deer. The claim is that it might have been a tapir. Tapirs are apparently biologically related to horses. They can be domesticated. They are not found in the Middle East or New York, so neither Nephi’s Hebrew/Egyptian, nor Joseph’s English would have already had a convenient word for them.

    And sure, it is also possible that there really were horses in the area at the time.

  38. Parts of this kind of discussion among the intelligent really irriatates me. I think many of us are straining at horse flies and swallowing Clydesdales and the wagons that they pull.

    Horses are mentioned many times in the B. of M. The scriptures most certainly are not a horse centered production, but horses are mentioned enough to not simply be dismissed. How many times or what was done with them is a side issue. (So are several other problematic animals. In fact all of the animals except dogs are European or Asian, not American; an independent observation that did not escape my son at about age 8 who is fascinated by animals).

    Horses are not part of the fossil record of that time in the Americas. Horse teeth are hard and large and very stable archeologically and very easy to find. The typical explanation for not finding them where they should be is that they didn’t look hard enough. This applies in both Asia and America. Where horse artifacts are not found neither are other artifact of animals because conditons for their preservation is not good.

    Horses are dominant herbivores whose original predators were eliminatd in the last ice age and so they push aside other competing species and become one of the most common animals wherever they are left alone by people. Even modern feral horses are a real problem crowding out other large herbivores where they are not managed. Hence their complete absence in the fossil record if they really were around along with plenty of other animals which demonstrates that conditions were good for their preservation is especially troubling and would overthrow a large portion of the field of archeology. (Since overthrowing large parts of a scientific field and causing textboks to be rewritten is what genius is all about, budding Mormon archeologists should go for it. In the mean time I remain waiting patiently for an explanation).

    This is a problem for now. It is a problem for me and for many other people in and out of the church who have read and sincerely considered the Book of Mormon. If it had a simple solution then someone should have thought of it after 175 years and we wouldn’t be having this discussion. Many solutions have been proposed from the ridiculous to the sublime and many discarded and they tell me more about the person offering the solution than anything else. I have yet to encounter a satisfing explanation that I can with a straight face offer to a honest unbiased non-LDS friend with a background in Geology, Archeology, Anthropology or related fields, but I am interested or I wouldn’t have even read this thread and I will try and keep an open mind. And bite my lip reading some of these comments, and definitely not share them with my non-LDS friends if the subject comes up.

    A horse is a horse. Horses are not tapirs. Or deer. How quickly the same people who grasp at these phylogenetic straws are revolted by the ideas that modern humans are much more closely related to Neanderthals or Australopithecus (sp?) or worse. The naming of these animals is child’s play. If the miraculously translated text confuses horse with deer or tapir for whatever reason, then how can we trust that Joseph or whomever didn’t confuse other more complex ideas? For example maybe what Jacob 2:28 really meant is that “I the Lard delight in the sexuality of women,” not their chastity. The Nephites were getting too prudish about sex. Let the good times roll. Cheetah clubs and strip shows after church. Wife swapping. It might improve attendance and make us the fastest growing church again. Best explanation for polygamy yet.

    With God anything is possible. It is possible that Jonah had a sister who also fled from her call to preach, but she was swallowed by a knat and lived for 400 years in the belly of the knat and was barfed up in China during the forgotten Wing Dynasty and she preached and they all repented and their matriarchial Priesthood lead by the 19 Apostlettes built ships and crossed the ocean and rounded up all the horses in America and so skilled did the Lard make them in the arts of horsewomanship that they flew them up into heaven leaving no trace in the fossil record or in history. Except the degenerate Mongols who returned back home to Asia with their Lamanite wives and became the greatest horsemen in history. This also explains the DNA problems. Anything is possible with the God who created the heavens and the earth.

    Just because you make it up doesn’t mean that it might not be true. But have we not departed far far from the realm of rationality with this kind of thinking? Have we not slipped into the ways of the mystics and the gnostics and the Kabbulah cults? Should we not rather proceed with the light and knowledge, however primitive, that we have?

    There may not be a rational solution to the horse problem. (For me.) I can live with that. Life is filled with contradiction and paradox.

  39. Mike, you know a lot about horses. I’d submit that you don’t know much about translating, or about the original people putting those ideas forward. (John Sorenson is far from fundementalist or literalist when it comes to scripture or history.)

    In the KJV, is “steel” (Sam. 22:35) steel? Are “unicorns” (De. 33:17) unicorns? Do rabbits (Lev. 11:6) chew the cud?

    When you’re motived or inspired by the Spirit, are you infallible?

    The standard you’re applying simply does not make sense from a scriptural or translational perspective.

  40. Lest Ben S. (#42) spend his time knocking down arguments I don’t propose: I have not created a “dichotomy”–I’m not proposing that these are the only two ways of looking at the issue. They were just two that illustrated my point.

  41. Why is this question bothering people so much?
    “The terms cattle, horses, sheep and so on are mentioned at several points in the Nephite record. And it is dismaying to some who wish to be dismayed, I believe and a few others who (honestly) wish an answer could be provided why there are not cows like we mean cows, horses like we mean horses, sheep like we mean sheep. The fact is that all the ancient studies say those animals simply were not present in the New World. Period. They were not here.”

    – John Sorenson, LDS Apologist, FARMS article from their website
    To put it plainly as I can. The efforts to justify tapir/deer as horse looks bad.

  42. Do you have a link or a more specific reference for that quote? I’ve googled FARMS on some phrases from the quote, and nothing shows up.

    I did find it on lds-mormon.com (a less than friendly site), also without attribution.

  43. Same here. I was looking up “Horse” and Mormon and came across that quote. Did not look at the whole site. I did find this article at farms that was rather a good read.


    Will look at the page better before quoting next time.

    I still am stumbling over the issue of this. How can the translation be divinely inspired when issues like this come up? This is just one of many problems I am having on several issues.

  44. The quotation in question comes from a videotaped FARMS lecture by John Sorenson entitled “The Book of Mormon in Ancient America.” The transcript doesn’t appear to be available any longer on the FARMS site, but it can be pulled up using web archives.

  45. Gunner, my own take on the translation essentially reflects that of Kevin Barney and Stephen Ricks, who have both published articles dealing with it. (I’ll refer you to those instead of rehashing the whole thing).

    The advantage of this theory is that it takes account of what little we know historically about the translation process, JS own changes to the text, the relevant sections of the D&C, and the text itself of the BoM.

    In short, I think it worked like this, at least, most of the time.

    a) The spirit puts the Hebrew/Egyptian/Nephite meaning into JS mind.
    b) JS must struggle to find equivalent English.
    c) When he finds something acceptable or sufficient , it appears on the seer stone, and he reads it off.

    In this scenario, Joseph is responsible for the language, must make effort to translate, and the translation is made possible by “the spirit and power of God.”

    The primary weaknesses of this theory are
    a) it’s unprovable (as with all the others) and
    b) it doesn’t, on the surface, seem to account for repetition or exactness. How does JS get Isaiah so close? How is Alma or Helaman able to quote so exactly from something they said earlier? How is JS able to spell out proper names letter by letter?

    There are at least two possible responces to this, which I don’t want to bother typing out. A good theory answers more questions than a bad theory, and I think this is currently the best there is.
    A FARMS article recently authored suggested that we be careful in how we approach this issue. I have some disagreements with it, but I think it relevant. here, referring to the “textual” school.

    Stephen Rick’s article is here

  46. We have the word “horse” appearing several times in the Book of Mormon.

    -It appears in the Book, because the printer printed it there.

    -The printer printed it there, because the printer’s manuscript had the word “horse” there.

    -The printer’s manuscript had the word “horse”, because the original manuscript had the word “horse”.

    -The original manuscript had the word “horse”, because Joseph Smith said “horse”, and the scribe wrote it down.

    -Joseph Smith said “horse” because…?

    That’s what I want to know. Why did Joseph Smith say “horse” to the scribe?

    It makes no sense to me when people draw analogies between the Book of Mormon “translation”, and other conventional translations. Conventional translations have several limiting factors, mainly the translator’s knowledge of both languages and their nuances.

    But I think it is safe to say that there is no one who has ever lived that could translate the Book of Mormon into English conventionally. No one has ever had knowledge of both languages. So it would have to be done by God, unless a “Rosetta Stone” was found that could link the languages. Since there wasn’t, the actual relationship between the written reformed Egyptian and the spoken English words would have to have been made by God.

    In a conventional translation, isn’t the translator trying to get beyond the words on the page and trying to read the mind of the author? Asking “what were they trying to say?”, and express it in a different language? That’s why a translator has to understand metaphors and other language devices for both languages, so they can understand the meaning, and not give a literal, nonsensical translation.

    And in the case of the Book of Mormon, don’t we have just that? A perfect translator (God), who knows exactly what Nephi saw, and what he meant when he wrote “horse”?

    Can someone present a theory of divine translation in which this isn’t the case?

    Whatever errors Moroni and other ancient scribes might have made in understanding or transcription had to be filtered through God to get to Joseph.

    Thus, I can understand errors when the scribes wrote the words down. I can understand errors when Oliver copied the original manuscript onto a printer’s manuscript. I can understand errors introduced in the printing process. But how could there be errors in the translation when it was God who was translating the Reformed Egyptian to English?

  47. VWJ–

    God is a perfect translator, but it appears that God allowed the original integrity of the document to stand (such as Alma’s ‘opinion’ about the resurrection or the later Nephi waxing contrafactually nostalgic) and God also had to speak to JS in a manner that made sense to JS. Plus, I don’t know that JS was “perfectly” inspired (although my personal experiences reading the BoM suggests that he was close!). In other words, God-as-perfect-translator is limited by an imperfect text and an imperfect prophet (JS).

  48. VWJ,

    Read the comment immediately above you for a theory of how the Book of Mormon could have come forth without God himself doing the translation into English.

    Read further above that for a discussion of how the Reformed Egyptian word might have been ‘horse,’ though they weren’t horses.

    Even God can’t do a perfect translation, in my opinion, because languages don’t map perfectly. Even if he did it himself, he could only do a best possible translation, which is not the same thing.

  49. First let me say that I am not a metaphorist and this is not a self defense. But I am aware of a few people in the church who think something along the lines that a pious Joseph was inspired by God to make up a book of scripture that was so powerful that it would spawn a new and important religion, fill in the details as you wish. (Many of which are also problematic, such as magic tricks involving gold plates). Joseph, a religious genius, got so many of the essential principles right with the help of God, why worry about a few horses and such?

    What is our response to those who hold this or similar positions? Do we ostracize them and slap them down and kick them out? How do we persuade them without listening to them and allowing them the possibility to persuade us? Do we allow them to teach our youth? Do we allow their convictions, or lack thereof, fair access in our protected marketplace of ideas? Is there room for them in a church that I believe is more a hospital for sinners than a country club for those already in the fast lane to their celestial glories, at least in their own minds?

    What bothers me more than the horses is how some orthodox Mormons treat the skeptical but not hostile disbelieving metaphorist. As the chorus of skeptics grows louder, with the Internet acting as an applifier, it seems to me that the orthodox become more defensive and obsessed with the questions of historicity and by default neglect the religious message. I might add that I think this forum is a good place to discuss the issues bearing on historical problems.

    Several years ago a youngish member of my Quorum told me privately of the recent development of his disbelief in the historical reality of the B. of M. He was a blue blood life long Mormon, served a mission, married in the temple and was actually a direct descendant of one of the early prophets. He asked me if I thought there was a future or even a current place for him in the church, disbelieving as he did.

    I told him yes. I even asked him to teach more than one lesson in Priesthood meeting on topics he was comfortable teaching sincerely. I was surprized at his restraint under fire, not to expose or advertise his doubts and to simply direct others to defend the areas he could not. He was asked to team teach early morning seminary which he did and without complaints. (Perhaps the youth were asleep when he really cut loose). He developed a relationship of trust and honesty with the church, not one of lying and fear of discovery and discipline. Frankly it was not any more of problem than the ward leaderes made of it and I only hoped that when he moved others would have the same or more tolerance for his struggles.

  50. It has been experience that if one proffers that type of skepticism they will soon encounter a Church member that will bring up “the adversary” in a less than metaphorical way. It has a rather unpleasant chastening effect which for me is quite unspiritual.

  51. I’ve eaten Horse meat while attending BYU-Hawaii. Have you ever seen Polynesians from Hawaii getting off of airplanes in SLC with coolers and boxes packed with dry ice? Ever wondered what was in them? Mostly fresh fish, Taro, Tapioca roots, and other staples of Polynesian diets that are readily available in Hawaii, but not Utah.

    Ever seen them leaving SLC with those same coolers, full of . . . . something? From my experience, it’s horse meat. (my Tongan boss at PCC received such “deliveries 3 times in the 4 years I worked for him).

    Now this was pre-9/11, and since I no longer get to Hawaii, and don’t have occasion to fly in/out of SLC, I don’t know if is still possible or prevalent. BTW – His wife can cook it up quite deliciously, and I would not hesitate to eat it again if offered . . .

    Also, I ate dog meat three times (that I know of) on my mission in Asia, am I going to Hell?

  52. After reading Frank McIntyre’s article I noticed one more inconsistency in the BoM that I had overlooked besides horses and elephants. That regarding the use of chariots. When was the wheel invented in the America’s? It been my understanding that it was never invented in the New World until the Europeans brought it over.

  53. We have no clue what we’re eating, I’d bet we’ve all eaten dog and horse at some time or another.

    We have two big dogs. I tell people it’s our way of food storage.

  54. 61. Anon. for now,

    Wheeled artifacts have been discovered in pre-European-intrusion sites. One article, with photos, is here

    Jeff Lindsay gives some useful observations and references here

    Here’s another article

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